(AP) – Forget winning. Eighteenth-ranked Florida might be lucky to score against second-ranked and heavily favored Alabama in the SEC championship game – especially if the Crimson Tide continue to control the clock by handing the ball to Derrick Henry.
Alabama (11-1, 7-1) can lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff when it faces the Gators (10-2, 7-1) on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
The Tide kept giving the ball to Henry – 14 times in a row to put Auburn away – in last week's 29-13 win that clinched the SEC West.
Henry ran a school-record 46 times for 271 yards, the third-highest total in a game for an Alabama back, and produced his fourth 200-yard effort of the season against an SEC defense. He helped put it away with 19 runs in the fourth quarter, then extended his school-record streak of games with a rushing touchdown to 17 in the final minute.
Henry broke Trent Richardson's single-season rushing mark by upping his total to 1,797 yards.
''He's the go-to guy,'' coach Nick Saban said. ''He didn't want to come out. He wanted to go.''
There really wasn't any question even before Henry's marathon Iron Bowl performance regarding who was the main man in the offense. He's leading the nation in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns with 22, also a school record.
Henry's essentially become a ball hog by averaging 31 carries over the last seven games against FBS teams.
''What they're doing now is getting the ball in the playmakers' hands and being very efficient in what they're doing,'' said Florida coach Jim McElwain, who spent four seasons in Tuscaloosa as Saban's offensive coordinator.
Henry is on pace for 2,000-plus yards even if Alabama doesn't make the national championship game. He needs one more rushing touchdown to match the SEC single-season mark shared by Florida's Tim Tebow and Auburn's Tre Mason.
''In a long line of great running backs that were there, I think it's a testament to coach Saban and what they're committing to doing year in and year out getting that guy behind center like that,'' McElwain said. ''He can make a difference in any ballgame. He's definitely a difference maker. We've got our work cut out for trying to jump on his back and slow him down.''
Henry, who grew up a Gators fan in Yulee, Florida, hasn't slowed down in the least. He took his last carry against Auburn 25 yards for a touchdown.
''That gets us on the sideline excited,'' linebacker Reggie Ragland said. ''You are on the sideline and Derrick gets going and coach just hands him the ball like that, Oh yeah. Five yards. Six yards. Five yards. 10 yards. That makes guys get excited. We love that about him. That means he's a workhorse and we love when he works.''
The Gators have been downright dismal on offense in recent weeks, averaging a little more than 12 points in regulation against Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Florida State. And the Crimson Tide lead the league in just about every defensive category and have allowed a total of 41 points in their last four games.
Florida's offense failed to score in a 27-2 road loss to the Seminoles last Saturday. The Gators had chances, but missed a field goal, had another one blocked and came up short on two fourth-down plays in the red zone.
The result has Florida as a 17-point underdog, the biggest in the SEC title game since the Gators were favored by 24 against Arkansas in 1995.
McElwain has used every opportunity this week to remind people that hardly anyone expected his team to be in this position. The Gators overachieved for sure. But they underachieved in November, at least offensively.
So nobody should have been surprised by what happened against the Seminoles. Florida managed 262 yards on 79 plays, with just one of those going for more than 20 yards.
''We've just got to get back on our feet,'' cornerback Jalen Tabor said. ''Coach Mac said we've got to get back on the horse. So all we're worried about right now is getting back on our feet and getting back on the horse and just going and attacking the next day.''
The offense was competent early in the season and even after starting quarterback Will Grier was suspended for a year for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
The offensive line was decent against FSU, and Kelvin Taylor finished with a season-high 136 yards rushing. But quarterback Treon Harris struggled again.
McElwain suggested that defenses have figured out Harris, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who looked mostly lost last month. His indecision and inaccuracy have become as common as his roll outs and runs.
McElwain also shouldered some of the blame.
''You need to look a little bit at me and what I'm asking him to do as well, and trying to push the envelope a little bit,'' McElwain said. ''That's how we're going to be offensively as we continue to grow. He's probably handled and done as good a job with his skill set as far as helping some of those things moving forward. Yet, he's learning. He's there, he's engaged. He's our quarterback and I'm glad he's our quarterback.''
McElwain gushed about Alabama's defense and Saban's ability to take away what every opponent does best.
Saban glossed over Florida's numerous offensive weaknesses and even said Harris reminds him of former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.
''This is an outstanding team that we're playing,'' Saban said. ''They wouldn't be in the SEC championship game if they weren't. I think anybody out there that thinks this is not going to be a real challenge and a real test for our team. I don't know what you're thinking. I don't know what you're thinking. I really don't get it.''
Alabama has won four in a row in the series, outscoring Florida 143-47.
'A lot of people doubting us,'' Taylor said. ''We just really can't focus on that. We just have to focus on ourselves and our team and we'll be fine. As long as we believe in each other, that's all that matters.''
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Derrick Henry
- Florida Gators
- Kelvin Taylor
- Reggie Ragland
- Teez Tabor
- Treon Harris
- Will Grier